Women and Judaism
Creation of Man and Woman
(כז) וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ (כח) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

(27) And God created Adam in God's own image, in the image of God, God created Adam; male and female God created them. (28) And God blessed them; and God said unto them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.’

(כא) וַיַּפֵּל֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֧ים ׀ תַּרְדֵּמָ֛ה עַל־הָאָדָ֖ם וַיִּישָׁ֑ן וַיִּקַּ֗ח אַחַת֙ מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו וַיִּסְגֹּ֥ר בָּשָׂ֖ר תַּחְתֶּֽנָּה׃ (כב) וַיִּבֶן֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶֽת־הַצֵּלָ֛ע אֲשֶׁר־לָקַ֥ח מִן־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְאִשָּׁ֑ה וַיְבִאֶ֖הָ אֶל־הָֽאָדָֽם׃ (כג) וַיֹּאמֶר֮ הָֽאָדָם֒ זֹ֣את הַפַּ֗עַם עֶ֚צֶם מֵֽעֲצָמַ֔י וּבָשָׂ֖ר מִבְּשָׂרִ֑י לְזֹאת֙ יִקָּרֵ֣א אִשָּׁ֔ה כִּ֥י מֵאִ֖ישׁ לֻֽקֳחָה־זֹּֽאת׃ (כד) עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזָב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃ (כה) וַיִּֽהְי֤וּ שְׁנֵיהֶם֙ עֲרוּמִּ֔ים הָֽאָדָ֖ם וְאִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וְלֹ֖א יִתְבֹּשָֽׁשׁוּ׃

(21) And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and Adam slept; and God took one of Adam's ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. (22) And the rib, which HASHEM, God had taken from Adam, God made a woman, and brought her unto Adam. (23) And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ (24) Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh. (25) And they were both naked, Adam and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Being "built" or "formed" (www.mechon-mamre.org)

According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of "binah" (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men. The rabbis inferred this from the idea that woman was "built" (Genesis 2,22) rather than "formed" (Genesis 2,7), and the Hebrew root of "build" has the same consonants as the word "binah". It has been said that the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah) were superior to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) in prophecy. It has also been said that women did not participate in the idolatry regarding the golden calf. Some traditional sources suggest that women are closer to God's ideal than men.

How God Made Me

(ד) כולם אומרים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,

גברים אומרים: שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי אשָּׁה

נשים אומרים: שֶׁעָשַׂנִי כִּרְצוֹנוֹ.

(4) Men- Blessed are you, Hashem, our God and Ruler of the world, who did not make me a woman.

Women- Blessed are you, Hashem, our God and Ruler of the world, who made me according to his will.


Because women are not obligated to perform as many commandments as men are, women are regarded as less privileged. It is in this light that one must understand the man's blessing thanking God for "not making me a woman". The prayer does not indicate that it is bad to be a woman, but only that men feel fortunate to be privileged to have more obligations.

Religious Obligation

(ז) כל מצות הבן על האב, אנשים חיבין ונשים פטורות.וכל מצות האב על הבן, אחד אנשים ואחד נשים חיבין .וכל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמה, אנשים חיבין ונשים פטורות .וכל מצות עשה שלא הזמן גרמה, אחד אנשים ואחד נשים חיבין.וכל מצות לא תעשה בין שהזמן גרמה בין שלא הזמן גרמה, אחד אנשים ואחד נשים חיבין, חוץ מבל תשחית ובל תקיף ובל תטמא למתים.

(7) [With regard to] all commandments of the son which are [incumbent] upon the father, men are obligated, and women are exempt. And [with regard to] all commandments of the father which are [incumbent] upon the son, both men and women are obligated. And [with regard to] every positive commandment that is time-dependent, men are obligated and women are exempt. And [with regard to] every positive commandment which is not time-dependent, both men and women are obligated. And [with regard to] every negative commandment, whether it is time-dependent or it is not time-dependent, both men and women are obligated, except for: "You shall not round off [the corners of your head]" (Leviticus 19:27), "You shall not destroy [the corners of your beard]" (ibid.), and "You shall not become ritually impure for the dead" (Leviticus 21:1).

Rambam, Commentary on Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7
And a positive time-bound commandment is obligatory at a set time, and outside of this time, its obligation does not take effect... You already know that we have a principle that one does not learn from (heuristic) rules, and the term “all” (in the statements about women and positive commandments) truly means “most.” The specific details of women’s obligation in positive commandments have no general rule, rather they are passed on by tradition. Is it not the case that eating matzah on the first night of Pesah, joy on the festivals, the public reading of the Torah every seven years, tefillah, reading of the megillah, lighting Hanukkah candles, lighting Shabbat candles, and reciting kiddush are all positive time-bound commandments and for each of them a woman’s obligation is the same as a man’s obligation.

מתני' כל מצות הבן על האב - אנשים חייבין ונשים פטורות. וכל מצות האב על הבן - אחד אנשים ואחד נשים חייבין. וכל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא אנשים חייבין ונשים פטורות. וכל מצות עשה שלא הזמן גרמא אחד האנשים ואחד הנשים חייבין. וכל מצות לא תעשה בין שהזמן גרמא בין שלא הזמן גרמא אחד האנשים ואחד הנשים חייבין, חוץ מבל תקיף ובל תשחית ובל תטמא למתים:

Mishna (redacted 180-220 CE): All mitzvot for a son by a father, men are abligated and women are exempt. And all mitzvot for a father by a son, both men and women are obligated. And all positive commandments which are time bound, men are obligated and women are exempt. All positive commandments which are not time bound, both men and women are obligated. All negative commandments, whether time bound or not, both men and women are obligated, except for the prohibition of shaving the corners and being impure from the dead.

ומצות עשה שהזמן גרמא נשים פטורות: מנלן גמר מתפילין מה תפילין נשים פטורות אף כל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא נשים פטורות ותפילין גמר לה מתלמוד תורה מה תלמוד תורה נשים פטורות אף תפילין נשים פטורות
§ The Gemara turns to the sources of this principle. From where do we derive that women are exempt from positive, time-bound mitzvot? It is derived by juxtaposition from the mitzva of phylacteries: Just as women are exempt from donning phylacteries, so too, women are exempt from all positive, time-bound mitzvot. And the exemption of women from donning phylacteries is derived from their exemption from Torah study: Just as women are exempt from Torah study, as derived from Deuteronomy 11:19, so too women are exempt from donning phylacteries, as the two issues are juxtaposed in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:7–8).
ונקיש תפילין למזוזה תפילין לתלמוד תורה איתקיש בין בפרשה ראשונה בין בפרשה שניה תפילין למזוזה בפרשה שניה לא איתקיש
The Gemara asks: And let us say the opposite and juxtapose phylacteries to mezuza, which is also mentioned in that passage. Mezuza is a mitzva in which women are also obligated. Based on this comparison, women would be obligated in phylacteries as well. The Gemara answers: Phylacteries are juxtaposed to Torah study in both the first paragraph and in the second paragraph of Shema, whereas phylacteries are not juxtaposed to mezuza in the second paragraph. It is therefore preferable to compare phylacteries to Torah study.
ונקיש מזוזה לתלמוד תורה לא סלקא דעתך דכתיב (דברים יא, כא) למען ירבו ימיכם גברי בעי חיי נשי לא בעי חיי
The Gemara says: But if so, let us juxtapose mezuza to Torah study and say that women are also exempt from the obligation of a mezuza. The Gemara rejects this suggestion: This could not enter your mind, as it is written with regard to the mitzva of mezuza: “That your days may be multiplied” (Deuteronomy 11:21). Can it be said that men need life but women do not need life? Since the reward for the performance of the mitzva of mezuza is extended life, this mitzva applies to women as well.
והרי סוכה דמצות עשה שהזמן גרמא דכתיב (ויקרא כג, מב) בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים טעמא דכתב רחמנא האזרח להוציא את הנשים הא לאו הכי נשים חייבות
The Gemara further asks: But there is the mitzva of residing in a sukka, which is a positive, time-bound mitzva, as it is written: “In sukkot you shall reside seven days” (Leviticus 23:42), referring to seven specific days of the year. Nevertheless, the reason women are exempt from this mitzva is that the Merciful One writes in the continuation of the verse: “All the homeborn in Israel shall reside in sukkot.” The definite article “the” is an exclusion, and serves to exclude the women from the obligation to reside in a sukka. It may be derived from here that if that was not so, women would be obligated. This indicates that women do not receive a blanket exemption from every positive, time-bound mitzva.

נשים ועבדים וקטנים פטורין מן הציצית מן התורה. ומדברי סופרים שכל קטן שיודע להתעטף חייב בציצית כדי לחנכו במצות. ונשים ועבדי' שרצו להתעטף בציצית מתעטפים בלא ברכה, וכן שאר מצות עשה שהנשים פטורות מהן - אם רצו לעשות אותן בלא ברכהאין ממחין בידן.

Rambam Hilchot Tzitzit 3:9 (Maimonides, 1138-1204, Spain, Egypt)

Women, servants, and minors are not required by the Torah to wear tzitzit. It is, however, a Rabbinical obligation for every child who knows how to dress himself to wear tzitzit in order to educate him to fulfill mitzvot. Women and servants who wish to wrap themselves in tzitzit may do so without reciting a blessing. Similarly, regarding the other positive commandments which women are not required to fulfill, if they desire to perform them without reciting a blessing, they should not be prevented from doing so.

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לְהִתְפַּלֵּל בְּכָל יוֹם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כג כה) ״וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֵת ה׳‎ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם״. מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ שֶׁעֲבוֹדָה זוֹ הִיא תְּפִלָּה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יא יג) ״וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם״ אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים אֵי זוֹ הִיא עֲבוֹדָה שֶׁבַּלֵּב זוֹ תְּפִלָּה. וְאֵין מִנְיַן הַתְּפִלּוֹת מִן הַתּוֹרָה. וְאֵין מִשְׁנֶה הַתְּפִלָּה הַזֹּאת מִן הַתּוֹרָה. וְאֵין לַתְּפִלָּה זְמַן קָבוּעַ מִן הַתּוֹרָה:
To pray daily is an affirmative duty, as it is said, "And ye shall serve the Lord, your God" (Exodus 23:25). The service, here referred to, according to the teaching of tradition, is Prayer, as it is said, "And to serve Him with all your heart" (Deuteronomy 11:13), on which the sages commented, "What may be described as Service of the Heart? Prayer". The number of prayers is not prescribed in the Torah. No form of prayer is prescribed in the Torah. Nor does the Torah prescribe a fixed time for Prayer. Hence, women and slaves are under an obligation to pray, this being a duty, the fulfillment of which is independent of set periods.

What this means for a woman's role in ritual life (www.mechon-mamre.org)

Judaism recognizes that it is humankind's nature to rebel against authority; thus, one who does something because he is commanded to is regarded with greater merit than one who does something because he chooses to. The person who refrains from pork because it is a commandment has more merit than the person who refrains from pork because he does not like the taste. In addition, the commandments, burdens, and obligations that were given to the Jewish people are regarded as a privilege, and the more commandments one is obliged to observe, the more privileged one is.

Because women are not obligated to perform certain commandments, their observance of those commandments does not "count" for group purposes. While a woman must pray the silent standing prayer just as a man does, she need not pray the full prayer service of the synagoue that a man prays. Thus, a woman's voluntary attendance at daily worship services does not count toward a minyan (the 10 people necessary to recite certain prayers), a woman's voluntary recitation of certain prayers does not count on behalf of the group (thus women cannot lead services), and a woman's voluntary reading from the Torah does not count towards the community's obligation to read from the Torah.

Equality and Rights, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rights, the Jew believes, have nothing to do with roles. Jew and non-Jew, man and woman, people of all colours and creeds have equal rights but different roles. Their rights are absolute and grounded in the sanctity of the individual. Man as such—and woman as such—was made in the image of God: ‘And God created man in His own image . . . male and female He created them’ (Gen. 1.27). It was the recognition of this that was to be the basis of the covenant between God and all humanity (Gen. 9.1-17). Violence against another human being was therefore an act of violence against God: ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man’ (Gen. 9.6). The same is true of injustice.

The rabbinic sages were emphatic in enunciating this idea and all its consequences. The equality of mankind is absolute: ‘Man was created alone for the sake of peace amongst men, so that one could not say to another: My father was greater than yours.’ The sanctity of life is absolute: ‘Whoever takes a life is as if he destroyed the world; whoever saves a life is as if he saved the world.’ The uniqueness of the individual is absolute: ‘If a man makes many coins from one die, they are all alike. But the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, made every man in the die of Adam, yet not one of them is like the other. Therefore, every single person is obliged to say: The world was created for my sake.’ Equality has nothing to do with choosing or being chosen. It knows no gradations or equivocations. It has to do with being human: that is, with being created.

Equality and Obligation

Since to the Jew his chosenness has nothing to do with rights or status, he can understand what otherwise may seem paradoxical: that a man may be chosen for one kind of role in the religious life and a woman for another, without this carrying undertones of the superiority of the one over the other.

Want to dive deeper? Read more from this great piece here: http://www.womenpriests.org/classic/sacks.asp

(א) אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה כְּשֹׁ֕ךְ חֲמַ֖ת הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ זָכַ֤ר אֶת־וַשְׁתִּי֙ וְאֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֔תָה וְאֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־נִגְזַ֖ר עָלֶֽיהָ׃
(1) Some time afterward, when the anger of King Ahasuerus subsided, he thought of Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.